Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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THE MESSIAH

My husband Chuck and I were invited by our friend, Jan, to attend a performance of The Messiah by Handel at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Hacienda Heights. Jan sings alto in the choir so we were happy to be a part of the audience.

The day was warm and the huge windows were opened wide for cross ventilation. The sanctuary was crowded. Chairs had been set up in the aisles and the balcony was open to accommodate the overflow. I marched up the aisle toward the front, Chuck following, grumbling. Through gritted teeth he whispered, “Where are you going? Maybe there’s room in the balcony.” I kept marching and he followed, his face flustered and red with embarrassment.

I’m a PK—a preacher’s kid—and know the front pews of a church are rarely filled. Apparently people are afraid the Holy Ghost will jump on them if they get too close to the preacher. Sure enough, the front pew was vacant. We took our seats.

The conductor took his place on the podium raised to a height that everyone of the 150 member Richard Riggs Memorial choir could see him. The sounds of talking, rustling of paper, and people moving about ceased. Silence reigned. The conductor raised his baton and the beautiful music began.

Chuck got sleepy, and before I knew it, he had nodded off. I caught him before his head dropped on the shoulder of a lady beside him. I’m thankful he didn’t snore.

The performance was all and more than I expected. So far, they are able to do this every Christmas. I hope so. I’d like to hear it again. Afterwards, there was apple pie and ice cream in a community room next door. I doubt Chuck will go with me again, even for pie and ice cream.

 

 

 


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CHRISTMAS AT SEVEN

I was seven years old. The Christmas tree was up and lit, gifts wrapped and placed under its branches. Mother and I were enjoying the beauty.

“Can we open our presents?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she answered. “We have to wait until daddy and your brother come home.”

So I sat on the couch to wait and fell asleep. When I awoke, the tree lights were off and most of the gifts were missing from under the tree. The room seemed dark and cold. No brother. No daddy. What happened?

“We’ve opened our gifts,” Mother said, smiling. “You were asleep.”

I sat on the couch, dazed. In my mind I could see them around the tree smiling, laughing, and opening their gifts. Happy without me.

Mother picked up a doll from under the tree and brought it to me. “Look, you got a doll,” she said, a happy excited expression on her face.

I didn’t care about that doll. Mother laid it beside me when I didn’t reach for it. And I didn’t care about the other gifts she laid beside me. She had refused to let me open gifts without daddy and my five-year-old brother, but they could opened gifts without me. They wanted to open gifts without me.

I outgrew that feeling because Mother and Dad truly loved us. They grew up in large families and very poor. They blessed us with a better life than they had had.

But, I learned an important lesson on my seventh Christmas. Never let anyone feel left out. Engage the lonely in conversation. Let people know they’re important. Be an encourager. By doing that, you are never lonely or left out yourself.


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Road Trips

We took two types of road trips.  The first one was when we drove as far as the Volvo wanted to take us.

As we traveled through the countryside I enjoyed the mountains  and the clouds until the left blinker stopped working, the freeway was downhill, rain was pouring and there were trucks in several lanes.  I set aside the California tour book and read the car manual.   My husband  was sure by wiggling some wires he could correct the problem.   We turned on the lights in a heavy downpour and the dashboard dimmed.   It was normal for our car to act up, it had over 260,000 miles.  We patiently drove in the right lane until we got to a rest stop.   We called our mechanic from a payphone.   This was the 90’s when coin operated payphones were everywhere.  Alberto confirmed that it was a bad fuse,  we should just replace it.    This was a modern rest stop with vending machines.   One of them was filled with car-parts, including a box of fuses.

The rain stopped.  As we continued to drive I was happy to hear the click-clack of the blinkers.   The dashboard lights were still dim and we decided to skip some of the sightseeing so we would get to the hotel before dark.  We adjusted our itenary for the whole trip just in case the headlights became moody.  DSC_0047-001

A year later we visited the gold rush towns in California.   I was reading about Mark Twain in Murhys  when the car started making strange noises.   Later the churning went away and my husband gave the Volvo an Italian tune-up.   He drove as fast as the car could go, to clean out the gunk.  This was Alberto’s advice before the trip.  The car was shaking, my eyes were glued to the rear-view mirror checking for police when John slowed down.  He had trouble holding the wheel because of the vibration.   He was sure the car was in much better shape now.

The hotels I booked would let me cancel till 6 pm that day.  I thought they invented this rule for people who dared to travel in old cars.  Half-way on the trip the engine got stuck in 2nd gear.   Being an automatic car, it wouldn’t go faster then 25m/hr.  We cancelled the rest of the lodgings.  The car shop in Jackson didn’t have the parts unless we waited three days.  We telephoned Alberto then decided to drive home, over 400 miles in second gear.  My husband explained that we might blow the engine then we would get towed to a local mechanic, hopefully this would happen near a bigger town.

Since we were driving 25 m/hr I could leisurely read the billboards and signs for auto repair shops and occasionally shouted over the engine noise “There! A Volvo dealer.”  The car was still moving so we didn’t exit the freeway.  The engine was rattling, I concentrated on my tongue so I wouldn’t bite it again.  I forgot to worry about the police giving us a ticket because we drove under the minimum speed limit.  We were three miles from home when the car shook and begun humming quietly.  It was shifting properly.  Next day Alberto checked out the car and couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

The second type of trips were when we followed a plan.  The hotels were prepaid to get discounted rates  and we looked for signs for restaurants and national park entrances.  We enjoyed picnics and panoramic views on mountain tops without worries of a moody car.  On these vacations we drove a Prius but that’s another story.


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Summer in Mayberry

Frank anchored himself on the garden’s gray bench as the Wilson’s Memorial Day BBQ got underway. Grandpa Will enthusiastically manned the grill and the smoker as usual. Chicken sizzled on the spit, ribs cooked in the smoker, and their delightful smoky aromas permeated the air. Frank’s mom carried trays of fresh vegetables. Mel placed red poppies and pink zinnia on a dozen picnic tables, each covered with red gingham. Folks laughed and talked. The sunlit backyard embraced the growing number of friends and family.

Frank breathed deeply, smiled, and reflected. His summer didn’t wait for the solstice in mid-June. Frank’s summer started when the jacaranda bloomed. He noticed the purple flowering trees most when riding down La Cuarta where bright blossoms blessed both sides of a two mile stretch of road. In the middle of that stretch, if he looked south towards the Pacific at the right spots, he wouldn’t see the ocean; instead he’d see more jacaranda flowers filling the sky, as trees on either side reached heavenward and met in the middle. Light purplish-blue blossoms everywhere signaled the first days of summer and the last days of school.

———-

Read more about Mayberry in my novels—Well Oiled and Cyberbully Blues.


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A Doll For Christmas

I tend to resent some of the newer dolls on today’s market.

Remember baby dolls? Little girls could hug them, hold them, nurture them. It was like a rehearsal for good parenting. Now I see advertisements for big-headed, swollen-lipped, racily clad dolls named — appropriately — Bratz.  Lord, deliver me.

unnamedMy personal childhood favorite was an 8” plastic Ginny doll which I received as a Christmas present in the 1950s. I found this doll a few years ago, in the back of a cupboard, stuffed into her red suitcase with all her clothes. It took me back to an innocent time when my neighbor and I used to play with our Ginny dolls — hers brunette, mine blonde — when we would act out scenes on the front lawn, the backyard picnic blanket, or in our bedrooms.

Whenever we saved up enough allowance, we bought them new outfits from the hobby shop on Whittier Boulevard, alongside boys who bought model airplane kits, and Dads who wandered in to augment their narrow gauge railroads. Betty and I would finish up Saturday morning by visiting the corner drugstore for a Coke or root beer, and buying a small paper bag of horehound drops to share on the walk home. Kids were allowed – expected – to walk home in those days.

I remember how happy I was buying Ginny her white nurse’s uniform with a red cross on the front; the unnamed-1chintz pinafore; jeans and gingham shirt with country straw hat. Not fettered by living my entire life in Southern California, I was thrilled to buy Ginny a pair of ski pants, with a set of wooden skis and ski poles. I also treated her to a winter coat made of green felt – finished with a wide collar that looked as if it had been cut from a barrister’s wig, or toy poodle.

Ginny’s accounnamedutrements include a shoe bag; socks, shoes, purses and hats; a hand mirror with comb; and a beloved Asta-type dog straight out of the old Nick and Nora movies. He was still wearing a plaid warming wrap and was tethered by a black leash.

I remembered trying to comb Ginny’s blonde hair around my finger in a perfect roll, to sit at the back of her neck. I even bought her a hatbox full of tiny curlers. Today her hair is wild and unruly.

Ginny’s most elegant apparel was a red velvet figure-skating outfit, a la Sonja Henie. The hem was trimmed unnamed-1with white fur and silver rickrack, which at age nine I found to be breathtakingly beautiful. In 1952 it probably was. There were ice skates, too, but I never found them in the jumble of clothes. Opening that lid startled me, to see the heap just as I had left it some time during the Eisenhower administration. What an embarrassing snapshot of my childhood habits!

Ginny’s chubby arms and legs still move, but they do not bend. She’s babyish, but not a baby. I didn’t cuddle her, but I took care of her, like a good Mom. She maintains her rosy cheeks and rosebud mouth. She acquired a rosy tummy and rosy backside, too, from 50 years of hibernating in cheap red velvet. Maybe I wasn’t such a great Mom after all.

I think a doll becomes more valuable if she is played with and develops a smudge-faced, wild-haired history. Sorry, Antiques Roadshow, but it’s sad to think a doll is worth more in the box, dust-free and untouched. My Ginny was played with. We learned things together. She made me a better person.

God knows what Bratz might be teaching our girls today.